Tempus fugit, particularly when you get to my age. Eight and a half years ago, Manchester Business Breakfast Club had a stand at the late lamented BEX exhibition in what was G-Mex. To the stand came a man with a plan, devised at the Edinburgh Festival in August 2002, to create a fringe theatre festival in Manchester, called 24:7. The idea was to have 24 plays performed over 7 days and nights in a week including 24th July. That man was David Slack, and the rest, as they say, is history. I was able to give David a few useful referrals to talk to people who I thought might be of assistance, and in return David and Amanda Hennessy did me the great honour of inviting me to be their co-director of 24:7 Theatre Arts Network Limited, the company formed to run the festival. On a shoestring, a wing and a prayer, the Festival first ran in 2004 with 17 productions, using an intriguing variety of non-theatre venues, which if I recall correctly included the Kings Arms and Black Lion in Salford, and Tiger Tiger and Babushka in the Printworks, the latter venue causing some excitement by going bust halfway through the Festival! Highlights I recall from the first Festival (before I got older and they all started to blend into each other) were ‘A Woman of A Certain Age’ and ‘The Heart is a Lonely Hunter’. I still have the proverbial T-shirt from the first festival, which is a goldish colour and also extremely warm for a T-shirt, which is probably a comment on Manchester’s prevailing weather conditions in late July (Jack Fingleton, the Australian cricket writer, suggested that Manchester had a monsoon in July. Having walked to and from work for the last 3 weeks, I agree with him!) Despite David at one stage a couple of years later that there would be no more Festivals, it has continued and gone from strength to strength, winning a MEN Theatre Award in its own right and also generating many MEN Award winning plays and performances. Through a successful few years based at the Midland Hotel (or whatever it is called this week) the Festival has now moved on to a base at New Century House, with the Three Minute Theatre at Affleck’s Palace also in use as a venue this year. Other past venues have included Walkabout, the bars at the Palace Theatre, the ill-fated Zavvi record shop (showing my age again), the (leaky) Sacha’s Hotel and a number of others that I am too senile to remember. From alternating between 17 and 21 plays in the first few years, the Festival has now settled down to a format of 10 plays, with a number of rehearsed readings and, this year, two visiting productions. The standard has always been very strong, and somehow or other seems to manage to improve each year. At the risk of betraying my faltering memory, I will pick out from the past 8 years the wonderful ‘Concrete Ribbons’ as my favourite production and my favourite performance the understated but thoroughly menacing gangster in the one-man tour de force ‘I am Frank Morgan’, who apparently so scared some of the audience that they didn’t dare talk to him at the end of the show! The Festival has stuck firmly to its principles of using only non-theatre spaces, accepting only new writing and restricting performances to an hour. This means that it is possible to see three shows in an evening, which I frequently do. In a number of past years I have seen all the productions, and the standard has been amazingly consistent and high. This year’s Festival runs from tomorrow to Friday 27th July, finishing neatly in time for the opening ceremony of the Olympics. Each of the 10 plays has 7 performances on two stages at New Century House and one at Affleck’s Palace. Go to see something in the Festival, and I suspect you will be hooked and want to see more, marvelling at the writing, acting and directing talent generated by this city and surrounding area. I will see you there!

Advertisements